With Barber’s Violin Concerto, Shaham Saves the Day

19/03/2017

Schreker, Barber, Beethoven: Gil Shaham (violin), San Francisco Symphony / Juraj Valčuha (conductor), Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. 16.3.2017. (HS)

Schreker – Chamber Symphony

Barber – Violin Concerto

Beethoven – Symphony No.7 in A Major

The finale of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a finger-busting perpetual-motion machine, requires the soloist to execute rapid-fire triplets and wide skips for all but a couple dozen measures. All the while a bustling orchestra races breathlessly alongside. It’s high on anyone’s degree-of-difficulty list. Even the best strain to get all the notes in accurately; fashioning it into sleek, lyrical music is rare.

Gil Shaham made it look, and sound, effortless. His performance with the San Francisco Symphony, heard Thursday in Davies Symphony Hall, spun out the first two highly lyrical movements with remarkable presence, sweetness, emotional precision and lucidity. He shaded phrases with delicacy and subtle attention to dynamics and tone, and it was jaw-dropping to hear these characteristics carried over to the breakneck finale.

Every note sounded clearly, with a silvery sense of rhythm. The shifting time signatures and spinning-wheel relentlessness never fazed him. All poured out as if it were a skip through the park, giving a sense of light-heartedness. Guest conductor Juraj Valčuha, music director of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy, led the orchestra in a taut performance of this finale.

To set up this tour de force, consciously or unconsciously, Valčuha and Shaham made the other two movements unabashedly lyrical and Romantic, favoring fleet tempos without losing any of the music’s emotional point. The sweet opening statement, which can easily turn overly sentimental, unfurled with delicately framed urgency. Where the pulse can lag in the second movement Andante, the long oboe melody (played here with generosity of spirit by principal Eugene Izotov) set a tone of warmth and majesty that Shaham developed into quite a rhapsody. Gestures such as the filigree rising phrases that mark transitions, became mists of color that evaporated at the top.

For an encore, Shaham played the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s E major Partita for Unaccompanied Violin with a winning combination of rhythmic vitality, shimmering tone, and just enough extra grace notes to bring a smile.

In a brightly paced performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, rather than impose a conductor’s gloss, Valčuha let the music bounce along, shading here and shaping a bit there, but mostly focusing on energy and momentum. Deft it wasn’t. He got out of the way and let Beethoven be his rowdy self.

These performances made up for a yawner of an opener. Franz Schreker’s Chamber Symphony was the toast of Vienna when it debuted in 1916 at the conservatory where the composer taught, but in its first San Francisco Symphony performance it displayed an uneasy mix of quasi-Debussy harmonies and sturdy Germanic structure. A sprinkling of piano-celesta-harp seasoning added a touch of charm, but not quite enough.

Fortunately, the program offered plenty to appreciate, especially in the concerto.

Harvey Steiman

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • NEW! The Three Choirs Festival 2018: A Preview __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Season at the Royal Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival – 30 June to 15 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Staatsoper Unter de Linden in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Bring Swan Lake to London in August __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! World Premiere by Novaya Opera of Pushkin – The Opera in the Theatre in the Woods __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month